Benefits Britain and the Rise of Poverty Porn

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Last night, Channel 4 engaged in yet more Poverty Porn, with the pseudo-reality programme Benefits Britain.  The programme followed several 2013 social security claimants as they were put through the 1949 welfare system. As with the other Poverty Porn Programming, the social security system was portrayed as costly, over generous and prone to abuse – and those reliant upon it as feckless and entitled.  It is time to bust the myths of Poverty Porn, and demand better from our media.

The UK in 1949

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The UK of 1949 might as well be a different planet.  The public had voted out the Conservatives and the country was represented by the Labour government of Clement Attlee.  Confectionary such as sweets and chocolate were rationed.  The gas industry was nationalised in the May.  George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty Four was published in June. The world’s first passenger jet made its maiden flight from Hatfield in July.  Wales opened its first comprehensive school in September. In December, the BBC made its first broadcast outside London and the Home Counties.

1949 2013
Infant Mortality (deaths per 1,000 live births) 26 4.2
Life Expectancy Men: 65     Women: 69 Men: 79     Women: 83
Population 43.7m 56.6m
Unemployment Rate 1.6% 7.8%
Price of a loaf of bread 4d (38p in today’s money) £1.35
Price of a pint of milk 2d (19p in today’s money) 46p
Average House price £1,911 £238,976

*all values for England & Wales

While the makers of Benefits Britain translated the old benefits into new money, they did not uprate in line with real price inflation.  This made the core argument of the programme – an endorsement of the view that today’s benefits system is more generous than in 1949 – bogus.

The Fall in Taxes Since 1949

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There are certain groups on British Society which have contributed significantly less to the treasury since 1949 – but they aren’t the working and jobless poor. While Benefits Britain and a host of other shows have seen fit to devote significant air time promoting the idea that the poor have never had it so good, almost none has been devoted to examining ever decreasing contributions from the wealthiest.

For instance, what about the dramatic fall in tax obligations on corporations and wealthy individuals?

Before 1965, profits were subject to income tax at the standard rate and to an additional “profits tax”. The old system was replaced by Corporation Tax, introduced at a rate of 40% by the Finance Act 1965.

The following comes from a report by the Economic Affairs Committee of UK parliament, published in July this year.

“In recent decades rates of corporation tax have steadily declined. During the 1980s the main rate fell from 52% to 35%, then during the 1990s from 35% to 30%. In 2008 the main rate came down to 28%, in 2011 to 26% and in 2012 to 24%

In 2013 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the main rate would be cut to 21% in 2014 and to 20% in 2015. He also announced that small company and main rates would be merged at 20% to give a single UK rate of corporation tax in 2015.[11] The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said he aims to achieve “the largest reduction in the burden of corporation tax in our nation’s history” so as to “compete with the world in our headline rate of corporation tax.” He contrasted the UK’s 20% rate (the lowest in the G20) with corporate tax rates in Germany (29%), France (33%) and the US (40%).[12]

The Government has also introduced a “patent box” under which income originating from patents owned in the UK will be taxed at 10%. It has relaxed anti-avoidance rules for controlled foreign companies[13]  (the CFC rules) so that interest received in subsidiaries in low taxed countries from lending outside the UK will only be taxed at 5.75%, a rule that KPMG has stated “gives UK based multinationals an opportunity to significantly reduce their tax rate”.[14]”

Supporters of tax cuts for Corporations argue that asking companies to pay smaller amounts means these corporations are more likely to pay.  Firstly, can we take a moment to appreciate the absurd double standard of such a statement?  If an individual or small business refuses to pay their taxes, they are fined, or even imprisoned – taxes are not voluntary.  So why the double standard for high net worth individuals and corporations?

Secondly, even if one were to accept the double standard – the bottom line is that the statement is unsupported by facts.

It was revealed recently that only one in four of the UK’s top companies pay their taxes, meanwhile they receive tax credits to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds by people who do pay their taxes.

Company taxes now constitute only 12.5% (Corporation Tax is just 7%) of the tax revenues of the UK.  In comparison, the people’s taxes, (income tax and VAT) make up more than 60% of the tax income.

The result of these tax changes is that tax receipts are lower today than in 1963.  Worse, the composition of those taxes have changed as tax cuts to the wealthiest have seen tax rises to non means tested taxes that hit everyone.

Between 1979 (the launch of Thatcherite Neoliberalism) and 2012 the top rate of income tax was cut from 98% for unearned income and 83% on earnings, to a flat 45%.  At the same time, VAT which applies to almost everything your regular person might buy rose from 8% to 20%. National Insurance has shot up from 6.5% to 12%.

This has meant that whilst income taxes have dropped as a proportion of income for most since 1979, income tax as a proportion of income has dropped significantly more for those earning higher incomes, and the total tax bill for a waged earner overall has increased to attempt to cover the shortfall of a great tax break for the wealthiest.

Benefits Britain neglected to mention that those in receipt of social security in the UK today do pay taxes.  They will be paying tax on almost all their purchases as a result of the rise on VAT and other stealth taxes implemented throughout the last 60 years to accommodate cuts in income and corporation taxes.  Many benefits are also taxed.

It is not social security claimants, but corporations and high net worth individuals that have never had it so good.

No More Poverty Porn

 The Estate

This list of Poverty Porn shows in recent weeks has been long and sad.  Channel 4 have brought us Skint, Benefit Busters, How to Get a Council House and Benefits Britain.  The BBC even chipped in with We All Pay Your Benefits.  This list is not even exhaustive, just some of the lowlights.

All of these shows, intentionally or otherwise, feed into a myth that the UK is some sort of paradise for benefit cheats.

In reality, benefit fraud is just 0.7% of all claims – this means Benefits Britain, to be statistically accurate, would have needed to follow the lives of 100 claimants to show just one playing the system.

In these shows, most if not all of a handful of claimants are portrayed as milking it.

The total cost of benefit fraud is £1.2bn a year – this is less than half what administrative errors cost the DWP each year.

Meanwhile, the HMRC puts the gap between taxes due and taxes received at £30bn a year. A recent Oxfam report put the figure at £100bn.

Sadly, although tax evasion of up to 100 times more significant an economic issue than benefit fraud, it receives a tiny proportion of the air time.  This allows the government to avoid tough questions about why, exactly, they are reducing the burden of taxation on the wealthiest who are already paying least.  It also creates a public mood that welcomes, and even demands the government crackdown on those claiming social security.  They used to have a word for media programming used to distort public mood in favour of a political goal by using misrepresented data: propaganda.

This Poverty Porn, point and judge programming, with its misleading statistics and sarcastic voice overs is just that. We must demand better from our broadcasters.

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40 thoughts on “Benefits Britain and the Rise of Poverty Porn

  1. People choosing to live on benefits as a lifestyle choice is ok because corporations and rich people avoid tax? In what sense are those two things related? Both are problems that need fixing!

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  4. Anonymous. I was let down badly at school. I have suffered severe bi polar all my life. And live a frugal life on benefits toped up by small amounts of gardening work cash in hand for a Family who do very well and live a wealthy and privileged life style, Husband earning huge amounts kids at private school. It is my employees that enjoy getting labour from people like me and immigrants and poor locals to help sustain there opulent life style. Having just helped in many ways to prepare for a birthday party that i can estimate at costing 5 to6,000 while I am expected to get to work earlier, on a train that costs more money around £5 and stay sometimes up to two hours late. And the hold they have over me is where else can i get a job. And I am supposed to feel grateful.

  5. “people” don’t pay tax…….income tax legislation only applies to “persons”…..a “person” is a corporation….ergo, all income tax is corporation tax……www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxKW-TD3okI

    “benefits” are due to a beneficiary………this evidences the existence of a Trust…..who is the Grantor of the Trust?……Our parents when they register our birth with the Crown……the Crown then creates the “person”……It is this PERSON which is taxed…….
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ME7K6P7hlko

    men and women of this earth can see through all these systematic constructs which have shaped our view of the “real world”…………the disenchanted heart/mind is open to authentic freedom

    peace

  6. I’d like to see a program following MPs about, what they put on expenses, how they avoid paying tax, flipping house’s and more about the cocaine found in the toilets they use at work! , Also explain the 7 million bill for last year, for meals and drinks in Westminster.
    THat is a program I would watch!

    • Could be revealing, but what I would like to see even more is a program reporting faithfully all their “private” meetings MPs held while receiving a “public” salary!
      Every MP’s appointment book should be on the web, and journalists allowed to sit in on meetings of their choice and report on them if they wish.

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  8. I am a pensioner of 68 , with a blocked artery in the heart , all I receive is £112 per week pension , I cant get any benefits because I have savings over there limit , I also have 2 obese friends of pensionable age , they claim disability benefits on top of there pension , they get a car every 3 years even though they found the finances to buy a £58000 campervan brand new , they pay £7 per year council tax , yet the pair of them paid £156 for a pub dinner to celebrate the new year in , I couldn’t go as i couldnt afford the £68 per head to attend as I don’t receive any benefits , they also popped over to Portugal earlier in the year for a week with the bowling club . so you tell me who is worse of , me on my pension or them on Benefits and a pension

    • If you can’t get pension credit to top up your £112 a week pension, then you have £26,500 in the bank. Pensioners are supposed to get a minimum pension of £145.50 per week. They are allowed to have £10,000 in savings, up to this amount does not affect pension credit.. Anything above that, it is assumed that they get £2 per week in interest for every £1,000. Your pension is short of the minimum amount by £33.50 per week. That means you must have the discounted £10,000, plus a further £16,500 – at least £16,500 – for your entitlement to a top up of £33.50 in pension guarantee credit to be wiped out. A lot of people would consider themselves fortunate to have a fraction of what you have in savings. You must have been well paid during your working life to have so much in the bank now. In short, you’re in no good position to complain.

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  10. would be interesting to discove who is producing these programmes and where they are securing the funding from and who they are affiliated to………..is this programing a third party propaganda assault by the condems in disguise?

    • More likely it is a convenient combination of social forces that coalesce without any individual being aware of all that’s happening. Let’s look at just one.
      First and foremost, there is the drive for program-makers to produce something that attracts a large viewing audience; and we all know that setting up a “them versus us” conflict in which “us” can feel both mildly threatened and also smugly superior (the Daily Mail formula) is a winner.
      They will be rejoicing at the controversy the program has produced and will be burnishing their CVs as they plan follow-ups.
      With a society that is driven by media titillation, there is no need for the”condems” to lift a finger; it’s all set up to fall into place.

  11. Great stuff. The only thing I’d take issue with is (unless my maths is skewed, which it might be!) your point “In reality, benefit fraud is just 0.7% of all claims – this means Benefits Britain, to be statistically accurate, would have needed to follow the lives of 100 claimants to show just one playing the system.” They’d actually need to have followed 145 claimants to find one who is playing the system (0.7% of 145 = 1.015). In other words, your point is even stronger than you make out

    • I came here to point that out too! However you would have to follow a minimum of 143 people (0.7% of 143 = 1.001) to be statistically likely to find one cheating the system. MATHS for the win! All the same its a dreadful situation when the majority perceive fraud is the norm when the data clearly shows it’s not.

  12. thanx for this, makes me wanna cry when i think of ppl actually agreeing with the kind of bullshit that this programme was.

  13. Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    This is the ever-excellent Scriptonite Daily’s critique of yet another ‘poverty porn’ programme, ‘Benefits Britain’, broadcast on Channel 4 last night. I’ve already blogged about the way the genre misrepresents the unemployed and benefit claimants as idle scroungers. This was very much the case in the Beeb’s ‘Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits’. The Oprichnik Rising blog heavily criticised that one, as Mr Oprichnik actually knew one of the claimants on the programme. This chap was very definitely not as he was presented by the programmes producers. I have to say I really am not surprised that modern benefit claimants would find the 1948 system hard. It was. Society was much harder in those days, and it was realised by social workers such as Audrey Harvey in the 1950s and Brian Abel-Smith and Peter Townsend of the LSE in the 1960s, for example, that poverty had not been eliminated and the system needed to be reformed and expanded. This, however, seems to have been deliberately excluded from the above programme, in favour of showing the unemployed poor that they’ve ‘never had it so good’. It’s effectively more Tory propaganda, this time brought to you by a formerly alternative channel.

  14. And what about the amount of benefits that are due to people, which they don’t claim? I’m not sure on figures but this has to be figured into any debate on benefits.. There are many people who don’t know they’re entitled to benefits and who exist without them.

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  16. Time the authorities stop chasing ants and went after the rats crawling about the place, and while we’re at it, stop selling off resources we built up for those same rats to fleece us further. Water, electricity, the NHS, railways etc. Banks too. We’re being used as refill stations, to pour money in for things to be sold among their buddies.

  17. While I am in agreement that the show does not translate everything well… It did make clear that there is a serious issue with our Benefits system and that some do have too much freedom… Lets be honest – That woman was frankly “unwilling” to even TRY to work… Despite someone who was far more ill than her actually working for the company anyway… Come on – You cannot deny that attitude needs to be smacked out of people!!!!

    I can also speak from experience too… In 2003, I took over care of my two children from my first marriage at the bequest of Social Services.

    My Ex was still claiming the Income Support, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits – So I was left bringing up Two Children on JSA – That was £74 a week…

    Now, It was not LIVING – We were surviving… But the fact remains that I did manage… Sadly, I could not provide the things that were needed to make the home suitable for the children to live in (No Carpets, Could not decorate, Could not afford toys or luxuries) but we were able to eat, bathe, we never ran out of gas or electric (Which my ex did frequently!!!! Even with the extra cash!!!!)

    The program is indeed very inaccurate in many respects… But I would WELCOME what the chap with Spina Bifida had… Being sent to a job and given a trial and given a job at the end of it… No CV’s but actually proving yourself… I would LOVE THAT!

    Fed up of not being able to get a job cos my CV ain’t bloody good enough!

  18. Pingback: Benefits Britain and the Rise of Poverty Porn | L8in

  19. It just plain vile and distorting the true picture to make a programme that seems to imply majority people on JSA & benefit now are having an easy time compared to 1949. Your statistic above shows the true context that is left out of the programme.

    • Every word you stated is absolute………………the media walk all over the poor and sick and disabled……we are all used… by this government …as scapegoats ….to distract people away from the continual failings of government………..

  20. I deliberately did not watch this show as it was always going to be propaganda, I used to think channel 4 were better than that,but was obviousely sadly mistaken,even channel 4 news has gone steadily down hill in recent times,seems like there is no longer any obligation to report facts, or for investigative journalism. Are we just supposed to believe everything the government sais is true ?

  21. I noticed the claim that 94% of disabled people were employed in 1949′ It was thrown in as an arbitrary claim with no back-up facts. To clarify: In 1949 Britain was being rebuilt after a world war, with massive borrowing from an already bankrupted government. We had lost millions of men during the war and were desperate for labour. We were also rebuilding Germany, so many of our surviving forces had not returned to Britain. In short, there was more work than people available to do it.

    • Partly that, Dave, but remember too that there were millions of unskilled process work, factory hand and cleaning jobs that have been done away with. The woollen mill hands, undergarment and other clothing manufacturing jobs, sock knitters, leather shoe makers, harvest workers, milkmen, shop assistants (shops had many times the number of staff per 1,000 sq feet of shop space), railway workers, typesetters, street sweepers, switchboard operators, junior clerks, typists and stenographers – all these occupations have been decimated, and they were all occupations that could readily accommodate a significant proportion of people without skills or literacy. The work places also had slots for handicapped people or people with restricted mobility.

  22. Complained to Ofcom and politely requested more programmes about tax cheats. It’s a very easy process and I’d like to suggest that anyone reading this also does the same.

    • Even more programs on tax cheating would miss the fact that the tax system has been set up and structured to enable avoidance without having to ‘cheat’. Successive British governments have condoned the tax havens in the Caribbean, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands – havens they could either shut down or neuter if they had the will.

      • Exactly, it would not be to difficult to set up a tax system that defined “profit” as being before payment of overseas interest/charges… the fact that “announced” profits for the purpose of paying dividends is then negated by then applying loopholes before calculating corporation tax “profits” and in some cases actually meaning they get paid extra by HMG just shows how corrupt/inequitable the whole system is.
        Surely if the gov is giving payments to the businesses then the “profit” declared should actually be a loss and as such no dividends can be paid… but hay, i’m not paid millions and an oxbridge graduate so what do I know.

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